Topic: The Media
Sunday as seen from Monday - What do reporters actually do for a living?
Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror
Hardcover, 304 pages
Publication Date: March 2004
Publisher: The Free Press, Simon & Schuster (Viacom)
Barnes and Noble Sales Rank: 1
Amazon Sales Rank: 7
So this guy was the White House head of counterterrorism for eleven years - he did such work for Reagan, the first Bush, for Clinton for all eight years, and for the second Bush until he quit last spring. And he's ticked off. He wrote a book about why. He says awful things about the younger Bush and his crew, and he said them on national television last night.
The best summary of the business, from Josh Marshall, is here:
Question? Is it the job of the press to dig around, gather facts, and point out who is more likely to be fibbing and spinning? Or is it the job of the press to report no more than that "he said this" and on the other hand "she said that" - and stay away from digging around? Anything else would be partisan and certainly not impartial and fair and balanced? Perhaps so.
One thinks of the old Watergate days when Woodward and Bernstein decided the former - digging around and exposing the truth - was what the press was supposed to do. Times have changed. Woodward last year published his book Bush at War - basically a puff piece on what a great guy Bush was and how he was really doing well. Those days when he and his partner were on a crusade to "dig up the hidden" are far in the past. These days the career bureaucrats have to do it themselves - first Paul O'Neill then Richard Clarke.
So what happened to investigative reporting?
The folks who dig around these days are not with the mainstream press. It seems to be the investigative bloggers on the net who do the heavy lifting now. Some of us note things and try to stir the pot. But others actually do digging and keep looking deeply into things. Trent Lott would still be majority leader in the Senate had not he been hounded by web-heads finding this and that and posting his wacky (to be generous) comments. These same "diggers" kept pulling up stuff about Bush's time in the Texas Air National Guard - odd items found and other odd items missing. There are more examples, but those will do to suggest something is afoot. In such cases the mainstream press eventually checked out what these independent sources had found and started reporting it, always graciously acknowledging who did the research, but not getting their own hands dirty with the digging through details.
That's not what the mainstream press does these days. One wonders why this is so.
The big nationally know papers -- the New York Times, Washington Post/Boston Globe/Newsweek (same corporation), Los Angeles Times/Chicago Tribune (same corporation) -- and the national media -- CBS-Viacom, ABC-Disney, NBC-General Electric, CNN-Times Warner, Fox News-Murdoch News Corp - don't do much investigative work any longer. They simply note events, as a general rule. Exposing what's really going on is for them now the exception.
The romantic notion that the press has as its core function to bring the real truth to the public and to keep our public officials honest is now a notion held only by the independents - ex-reporters and economists and whomever with their web logs, and by odd little magazines. I guess that role has become too dangerous for what is now the "corporate press" - a group with masters who have other priorities and wish to please a very broad consumer public where the rule is "offend the most people the least."
Well, CBS-Viacom did do this report on the new book Richard Clarke published. And that is taking a bit of a chance. Because what Clarke contends is, politically, white-hot. And CBS-Viacom would not want to be seen as the tool of the Bush-haters - those people who hate America and side with the terrorists and would like it if Saddam Hussein were back in power. You know who they are. Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity call them traitors, guilty of treason - the liberals.
Well, CBS-Viacom is safe. They didn't say what Clarke said was true. They only reported that he said some things. It's not like they said they believed such things.
Oh, and by the way, here Rush Limbaugh points out that Clarke's book is being published by Simon & Schuster, a publishing company owned by Viacom, which in turn owns CBS, which owns 60 Minutes. (Thanks to Billmon for pointing this out.) Rush's idea is that this proves the whole business is just an attempt by CBS-Viacom to make some money, and thus this whole business should be dismissed as one more example of meaningless sales hype.
So what things does Clarke say that we are being asked to believe, or in the case of Rush, being asked to dismiss?
My favorite segment of what Clarke said on Sixty Minutes last night was this:
And then there was this exchange over at the Pentagon, with Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, Rumsfeld's second in command:
Paul Wolfowitz may be "the prime architect and idea man of the second Iraq war." Did he really spend the first eight months of the Bush administration focused on "Iraqi terrorism against the United States" - while all his own sources were reminding him that such terrorism simply didn't exist. Could be.
How can one find out if all of this is true?
Well, the commission on the 9-11 events starts its hearings this week. Most everyone from this administration and the last will testify - expect the National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, who refuses, and Bush and Cheney who will only speak to the co-chairmen, informally, and not under oath, and for only an hour, or maybe a tad more if they really have to.
That alone is a little off-putting. But they're busy guys. Oh well.
It will be interesting to hear what they have to say, and how the mainstream press reports it. If there are more outrageous revelations, can they make such revelations seem bland and not threatening? Perhaps so. We'll get more he-said she-said. And not know just who is full of crap.
Note: my friend, Rick-the-News-Guy, late of CNN and AP, will probably tell me I'm all wrong about the press. And he's buddies with all the key players. And I'll defer to him.